The End… but not really
I have two days left in Iquitos and I am going to spend them taking it all in, so that I can think of it when I am home, and draw inspiration from this place when I am discouraged by our consumer driven lifestyle. This trip was meant to be, and I am more aware than ever of what is at stake. Losing the Amazon rain forest is unimaginable. Our lifestyles are driving change in this beautiful, colorful world that we will most certainly regret. This blog is not meant to make you feel guilty, but rather to make you aware. Petroleum companies that know no geographical or moral boundaries are in control of our extremely valuable resources. Shortsightedness prevents some from seeing that these resources are much more valuable exactly where they are, performing the ecosystem services that they were perfectly designed to perform.
What I have learned here brings me full circle to the moment in my life that set me on this trajectory: fifth grade science unit on the Amazon Rain Forest. I plan to continue my research on petroleum activity and impacts in the Amazonian Peru, and specifically the training programs that have been designed to empower the native people to protect themselves and this place. I will post periodically to my blog as I learn.
Please feel free to contact me directly with any questions you may have. I hope you are inspired to learn more through exploration of the resources I have provided below.
Finer, M., Jenkins, C. N., Pimm, S. L., Keane, B., & Ross, C. (2008) Oil and Gas Projects in the Western Amazon: Threats to wilderness, biodiversity, and indigenous peoples. PLoS ONE 3(8): e2932.
Stetson, George. (2012) Oil Politics and the Indigenous Resistance in the Peruvian Amazon: The rhetoric of modernity against the reality of coloniality. Journal of Environment & Development. 21(1) 76-97.
January 8, 2013
One last hike in the jungle
Before breakfast a few of us go on one last jungle hike with Devon. He shows us massive trees that support an entire community of life in their branches, high above us. He tells us that more species can be found in one acre here than in all of Kentucky.
We leave shortly after breakfast and it’s a beautiful morning on the Amazon. We are delighted to see pink dolphin. As we cruise upriver, back to the chaos that is Iquitos, I have mixed feelings. I am sad to leave the rain forest behind, but looking forward to getting back to “civilization”. I am anxious to internet chat with my husband. The only way my Amazon experience could have been better is if he had been here to have it with me.
Isle de los monos
On the way back, we stop at the island of the monkeys, a monkey rescue center inhabited by various species of monkeys, parrots, a rabbit, and a dog. Almost all of the critters roam freely, and the monkeys are very funny and will climb up and down human visitors and swing from their arms. My fellow travels are delighted and Brittany especially loves the monkeys. When we try to leave, one sweet monkey boards our boat, and the caretaker must come and get him.
January 7, 2013
The community of Yanashi (approximately 3000 people) faces the river with a long sidewalk that runs from one end to the other. In the center is a park area that is landscaped with well manicured lawns and pretty flower beds. A woman is working in a bed and a man wearing safety gear uses a weed eater to cut grass. We visit the church, which is simple and beautiful and meet Sister Mary of the Snows, an Ursulane Nun originally from Quebec but obviously at home in Yanashi as she has lived here for 43 years. She is chatty, and talks with Devon about the flood last year, the missionary, gardens, and the recent emergence of young leaders in Yanashi, among many other things.
We next visit the school, which has been built by the Catholic Church. The school serves 600 children from the region, some from Yanashi and some from the neighboring communities. We talk with Mario Guimack Chino, the “Sub-Director” who has been teaching here for 29 years, and he is eager to tell us about his school. There is primary and secondary education here, a staff of 34 (25 teachers), and they are expanding with a new school building and when funds allow, a dormitory to serve a growing population. Tuition is expected, and Yanashi locals pay 25 soles per year; those from outside the community pay 30 soles. Uniform and school supplies are extra. The school has a generator that is used for administrative work. Two small solar panels stand in the courtyard. We are told that they work well but the batteries after 3-4 years have stopped holding a charge. Science and environmental education are included in curriculum and they do focus on the social impacts of environmental issues, Mario tells us. Approximately 15% of students go on to study at University in Iquitos, and 20% go into technical school. Young leaders are emerging in Yanashi, Mario says, because they are educated and empowered to question the status quo. There was a time when only the elders were leaders. Times are changing in Yanashi. The population has doubled in the past 10 years. Internet is expected by 2014.
Mario also tells us about a water system that was installed by “the Italians” about seven years ago, with intent to bring potable water to Yanashi households. The system includes water towers and other infrastructure, but has never worked.
Trade trip to Comandancia
After our trip to Yanashi, we return to the field station for lunch and then some free time before one trip back to Comandancia for trading. Some our our team take siestas, some go kayaking up the river, and I swim. It is my last chance to swim in the Rio Orosa, tributary to the great Amazon, and it feels damn good.
At 4:00 we head to Comandancia where they are expecting us at their community center. The building is open air, on stilts, and we all fear the floor will not hold our weight. But the community is ready for us with crafts they have made for trading laid out on the floor all around the room. There are woven jute bags and jewelry decorated with seeds, shells, and fish bones. There are wooden carvings and paddles. Everyone is there and the children are especially excited to see Shauna and Chad, who shower them with more gifts. I trade t-shirts for a bag and bracelet featuring a large piece of beetle carapace. To the children I give crayons and matchbox cars, which are a hit. This event (and it is an event), is somehow heartbreaking to me. I can’t really explain why, but perhaps I am just overwhelmed by how simple and sweet the people here are. It is a big deal that we are here to trade for goods they’ve made. And I am impressed by how much time and effort they’ve put into making these crafts to trade and depressed by the fact that I am trading a gently used t-shirt for something that is clearly much more special. I make note that they are pleased with the clothing, but what they really want are D batteries, children’s clothing, and cash.
That evening, we enjoy our last meal at Madre Selva and celebrate with a screening of Anaconda dubbed in Spanish.
El Perro Del Hortelano
The Gardener’s Dog
The story of The Gardener’s Dog, (originally “The Dog in the Manger”) originates as the Greek fable of the dog that guards the manger, not allowing the other animals to eat the hay and other food they need. The idea is that people begrudge others from having something they themselves have no use for.
The Peruvian government, and specifically former President, Alan Garcia (2006 – 2011) see the indigenous people as anti-development, protecting their lands at the cost of progress (El Perro Del Hortelano). Largely as a result of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States, the Garcia administration approved a law in 2007 that gave the executive branch full legislative power for 180 days. Ninety-nine legislative decrees were made to aid in adapting to the terms of the FTA and encouraging capital investment (Stetson, 2012). Among other things, these decrees gave the government control over indigenous lands, completely undermining any indigenous control. This action is in direct opposition to the United Nation’s Declaration on Indigenous Rights (2007), which recognizes:
“…the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources…
…that control by indigenous peoples over developments affecting them and their lands, territories and resources will enable them to maintain and strengthen their institutions, cultures and traditions, and to promote their development in accordance with their aspirations and needs,
…that respect for indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practices contributes to sustainable and equitable development and proper management of the environment…”
Full document available at: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf
At present, the only consideration given to indigenous people are informative workshops and public meetings to review and approve Environmental Impact Studies. These actions are purely superficial. The presentations are highly technical and much of the content is not easily understood by audiences. Even if the affected communities do understand the implications of the petro activities on their territorial lands, they have no power whatsoever to take any action. These meetings are informative, and much of the activity has already been initiated and the course of action nearly irreversible. The only recourse is for these people to protest, and in recent years huge protests have resulted in deaths of both the protestors and police officers. These protests are seen by the government as barriers to progress, and detrimental to the overall welfare of the country.
Fatal Clashes Erupt in Peru at Roadblock – New York Times
January 5, 2013
Today we return to the community of Santo Tomas. The first order is to clear an area about the size of an acre between the school and the river to grow some corn, rice, yucca, and other vegetables to sell to raise funds for the school. There is a good turn-out, about 25 people go to work clearing the area with machetes, which are remarkably effective. Group effort in these communities is common, and representatives from each family typically participate. After the land clearing, which takes only about an hour, we gather in the school to talk with Antonio Pacaya, Lieutenant Governor, and Antonio Garcia Delaguila, the President and religious leader. They thank everyone for their hard work and speak about the importance of the school, not only for the education of their young people, but as a place for adult education (literacy classes are offered), for community meetings, and as a place that brings community together. There is some talk of plans for a secondary school to be built in the area, but the most exciting topic is the coming clinic. The clinic, which is being constructed by Project Amazonas, is expected to be opened this summer, and this news by “Dr. Devon” is received with applause.
Other community projects are planned, but Santo Tomas must first receive a title for their land, 650 hectares along the Rio Orosa. This title is expected to come anytime, and when it arrives, so too will come a waste management project, which will allow for composting of organics for local use, and transportation of recyclable waste to Iquitos. A sustainable forest management plan is in the works, so that they can harvest timber for local use and possible sale, without exhausting the resource.
We ask the community leaders about petro activity in the area, and they tell us that a Canadian company has a concession, but after exploration decided to postpone any extraction activity. The leaders state that they found the oil to be too “green”, which likely means that extraction simply isn’t feasible at this place and time. The residents of Santo Tomas did not communicate directly with the petro company, but heard this information by word of mouth. They stated that if the petro company had decided to extract, they likely would meet with residents for discussion first. The members of this community are well aware of the challenges being faced by other river villages that have not been so lucky as to have oil too “green” to extract.
Other environmental concerns include river contamination due to dumping of waste, which will largely be addressed by the waste management project.
We celebrated Devon’s birthday with a scrumptious cake and jungle cocktails.
The Rain Forest…and Lucy
An attempt to describe the rain forest here seems absurd, as there is so much going on in this world. Sound comes from everywhere, rising, falling, overlapping, made by water dripping, beautifully colored birds, countless insects and the sweet charismatic frogs that are often featured in Rain Forest publication materials from posters to coloring books. Our group’s collective favorite sound is the one made by the Oropendola bird. It sounds like a great big water drop. (recording here) It is a lush, dense green forest filled with plants and trees that look nothing like anything I’ve ever seen before. In fact, Devon took us along on an excursion to visit a coniferous tree of which only three individuals have been identified (two by Devon). This individual is the only female of the three, and Devon actually gets naming rights to the species, which is pretty incredible. He is calling her Lucy for short, after the first female. She is enormous. So tall that I can barely make out what her leaves actually look like. Devon measures her diameter breast height (3.5 meters circumference) and finds a seedling on the forest floor to photograph for his documentation. I am in awe of both him and the tree.
The rain forest is the most diverse ecosystem on earth, home to more species that have even begun to be identified and catalogued. But its a difficult place for us humans and we struggle with the clouds of mosquitoes, ants who will cling and bite and set your skin on fire, and a remarkable number of thorny varieties of trees and plants. We all agree that the short hike out to visit Lucy is easily the toughest any of us have ever done. But worth it.